Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Gospel According To Fishman
There is only one word to describe the Signature Theatre's world premiere presentation of The Gospel According To Fishman - exhilarating. Not only will this lively musical have you humming, but it will leave you with something to think about long after you have left the theater.
Set in the turbulent 1960s during the civil rights movement, The Gospel According To Fishman introduces the audience to Alan Fishman, a young Jewish man from Brooklyn who writes gospel music for a black gospel choir. The leader of this choir is the dynamic Nehi Taylor. With a voice to rival Mahalia Jackson and an unwavering faith, Nehi leads the choir to rising success. But soon events escalate with the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It is then that Nehi makes the choice to forgo her burgeoning career in favor of taking part in the civil rights movement. Soon, Alan finds that he is forced to make some choices of his own.
Michael Lazar and Richard Oberacker have created a powerful piece of work. Although the second act does lose momentum at some points, the energy rarely wanes throughout the course of the production. Mr. Lazar and Mr. Oberacker have provided a book that is both intense and comical and is very successful in conveying its message. The rousing score provides a wonderful mix of styles. Going from hand clapping, gospel music to traditional show music, this creative team has proven that they are versatile writers.
Director, Eric Schaeffer does an excellent job of making this show feel bigger than life in a relatively intimate space. He is aided by a top-notch cast that delivers 110%. E. Faye Butler (Helen Hayes Award Nominee (Dinah Was) as Nehi Taylor brings down the house with her soulful voice and electric performance. However, her performance is not all high-energy vocal gymnastics. Ms. Butler is also a fine actress. She delivers a poignant performance, exhibiting confidence, strength, and at times, self doubt. Tally Sessions (Godspell) is perfectly cast as Alan Fishman. He brings true authenticity to the role and connects well with his fellow cast members. Ta' Rea Campbell as Alan's love interest, Jolene, is also excellent. At first glance, this petite young woman gives off an aura of sweetness and innocence - then she sings and the walls start to shake.
As in shows past, Karma Camp (Grand Hotel) provides wonderful choreography. The set design by James Kronzer works well for the many different settings in the play. Completing the look is Rhonda Key with her superb '60s era costumes.
Overall, this is an excellent production. With a bit of tightening
up, it would make a viable possibility for Off-Broadway or even a
smaller Broadway house. The Gospel According To Fishman runs
through February 24th.